Undue Criticism of Special Education

I’m frustrated with the finger pointing that sometimes occurs between general education teachers and special education teachers. In the seven years I’ve been an administrator, in three different districts, I’ve seen this occur too often. At times, when a student accomplishes something through the services of a special ed teacher, gen ed teachers have the audacity to say the special education teacher did the work for the student. This is insulting to the student and to the special education teacher.

If we think about the different roles of the general education and special education teacher, we see a different focus. Generally speaking, the special education teacher focuses on each student’s strengths and weaknesses and works to capitalize on one and improve the other. General education teachers focus on delivering the content, while differentiating instruction, for all students in the class.

As I see it, everything the special education teacher does is to help the student succeed for you, the general education teacher. Why then, do general education teachers sometimes criticize the special education teachers when the child meets with that success? This seems absurd to me, because that’s exactly what the special ed teacher is hired to accomplish. Strengthening our students, helping them to succeed– this is the basic purpose of our school system.

General education teachers, special education teachers, teaching assistants, guidance counselors, specialists, administrators, and students have one goal: student success at every level. It’s nobody’s business to point the finger at any other person in the system. It’s everyone’s business to work together as a team in the best interest of the child.

Teachers who determine that students could never do the work without the special education teacher doing it for them should let go of their trusty bell curves. It’s time.

Where Do I Sign Up to be a Charter School?

As Governor Spitzer announces his interest in more than doubling the number of charter schools in our state, I’m beginning to do some research so that I can better understand the initiative. The very first article I find is out of Georgia and the author details a state plan as follows,

 A plan that would give entire school systems the same freedoms as existing charter schools moved one step closer to passage on Tuesday, clearing a Senate committee on a party-line vote. The classification would allow systems to run schools free from many state and federal regulations – including rules on class size, school hours and the hiring and firing of teachers. 

Maybe I’m naive but that sure sounds like a push for more local control. Why do school systems need to be named charter school systems to provide local leaders with decision making ability?

I have to return for a moment to my NYSUT days as a Committee of 100 member, lobbying in Albany, and point readers to NYSUT’s view on charter schools. An obvious question comes to mind:

If we think it’s good practice to form charter schools who can operate free from the regulations governing public schools, then why do we support the regulations governing public schools?

As a 17 year veteran of public schools, working hard to make a difference every day, I can’t be trusted to make good decisions without regulations, but I could be as a charter school applicant?

Buffalo News Begins Blogs

Despite the fact that I read the 23 feeds into my RSS aggregator, including CNN, on a daily basis, I still enjoy reading the Buffalo News and Dunkirk Observer, our local newspapers. For me, nothing signals the relaxed feel of a Sunday like a fresh pot of coffee and the Buffalo News. Yesterday, I read an editorial by Editor Margaret Sullivan that’s worth talking about on G-Town Talks.

Ms. Sullivan writes about the changes to the Buffalo News website in her article, “Web site will breathe new life into News”. Currently when I go to this website it’s not a source of daily news, nor is it even easy to get to someone who’s writing for the News if I’d like to comment about something that I’ve read. Margaret writes about the proposed changes with excitement and for good reason. The newspaper as we’ve always known it needs to evolve, to reinvent itself, or risk replacement by other means of information, namely the Internet.

Ms. Sullivan talks about the need to “put breaking local news on the site” and to offer “much more interactivity with readers, and a number of staff written blogs”. She acknowledges the need for change further by stating, “with young people far more attuned to the Internet than to print, the viability of newspaper journalism is at risk.”

I’ve been reading my RSS aggregator and blogging since July and I can honestly say that it’s changed the way I read and the way I interact with information. For the first time, when I read the newspaper, it’s active. I want to follow through with the ideas generated by a piece, I want to add what I think to the conversation—but it isn’t a conversation, it’s a newspaper. Therein lies the need for change, we’re changing as readers and as learners, and that dictates a change for newspapers.

Yes, Margaret, you need blogs so that your reporters can enter the conversation. And as you and your reporters already know, the conversation will become much richer and much more valuable because of your connections. The feedback you receive will be immediate and more frequent as it’s much more likely that I’ll click on “comment” than remember an article and then send an email or a letter.

Ms. Sullivan writes,

I am convinced that newspapers provide something critically important that other media often do not: depth, thoughtfulness, investigative skills and an enterprising (rather than reactive) approach to news. It may sound melodramatic but I believe it’s true: If newspapers crumble, so does a cornerstone of American democracy.”

It’s a very good thing that the News is entering the blogosphere and adding Internet delivery. Through G-Town Talks and my Bloglines account, that same depth, thoughtfulness, and research have enriched my own reading and learning. The Buffalo News, with a wealth of experience, intellect, and investigative writing, has a tremendous amount to offer. The only question left is “how do they sustain revenue when so much of our intellectual property can be found for free online?”

Patience for Spammers

Maybe it’s the thought inspired by the new disclaimer in my tagline. Maybe I’m thinking more about possible negative interpretations of this blog. Maybe I’m realizing again, at 43, that no matter my good intentions, sometimes people can interpret things very differently from the way I know them to be.

I’m now moderating all comments to this blog prior to publication. I hate to do it, I really prefer that when someone comments, his or her voice is immediately added to the discussion. But spam keeps getting the best of me and despite the blacklist and the spam moderation, comments keep getting through with links to less than desireable websites. I worry that someone will read G-Town Talks for the very first time, not understand what spam is, and misunderstand the blog.

I’ll have to find a few more minutes during the day to check the blog for comments in moderation. Patience. One of the many areas in which I continue to be a work in progress.

February Break is Not Needed

One of the built in benefits of the school schedule is the fresh start provided at the beginning of each quarter, semester, and school year. This is a terrific opportunity for every student to “get it right” with attendance, homework completion, and academic achievement. Either the student is continuing his or her strong efforts from previous terms OR he or she gets the chance to start over with good intentions.

As a teacher, I always enjoyed the opportunity to start fresh because a new term usually meant starting a new topic or unit. Historically the third quarter is the toughest on students in regard to rigor, and overall grades generally reflect this fact. It’s a time to really push for  content in our rush toward the Regents exams. In New York State, schools are measured and judged by our graduation rate and by the performance of our students on our Regents exams, particularly at the mastery level of 85 and above. This puts tremendous pressure for improvement on everyone from the superintendent to the principal to the teacher to the student.

As we embrace this new beginning, this third quarter/second semester fresh start, we look forward to only three weeks of uninterrupted instruction when we enter another break, one week off starting with Presidents’ Day. Many of our students will return this Tuesday after a full week off without daily attendance, attending only for their scheduled Regents exams. This February break is a problem.

Any school counselor certainly knows, and most teachers, that the return from and anticipation of school breaks is hard on many children who do not enjoy that time at home for any number of reasons. We just get our kids back in the swing of things, and BOOM, another break.

In my opinion, the February break is a worthless waste of time. Many advocate that we were better off with two weeks at Easter time. I don’t honestly care one way or the other if Easter is one week or two, but can definitely say that the February break is an interruption to student learning that we don’t need.

Typing 101

I’m officially evolving with technology. As someone who took every secretarial class in high school, I know proper typing posture and technique. I can still see Miss Rita Peters at Plum Senior High School walking around the room demanding perfect posture. When you completed her program, there was no need for further training. This is something on which Miss Peters prided herself and rightfully so.

As small as this may seem for my many techie friends, I’ve evolved from my proper keyboard and desktop computer to a new laptop. It may take me a while to get the hang of the little blue dot in the middle of the keyboard (thank goodness I’ve still got a mouse). I love the idea of taking it to conferences and meetings.

I also love the idea of taking something portable with me when I chaperone our school’s trip to London, Paris and Madrid at the beginning of April. It would have to be really light and easy to carry. I keep thinking I could post about our trip each day and all of the nervous parents at home could get a play by play. Heck, I should be able to figure out pictures to post here of the kids too. Since I’ve never added a picture to this blog, I may have a lot to learn.  Any ideas on the best way for me to do this without spending a fortune prior to the trip, please send them my way.

Thought I’d better out myself because many of you probably think I’m somewhat tech savvie. Truth be told, I still think of Miss Peters every time I use the manual typewriter to type an envelope. Who needs to learn how to print labels anyway?

Simple Solutions

Sometimes the fix is so darned simple.

We give the January Regents to a large percentage of our students. We test all the English 11 students on the Comprehensive English exam, all Math A and Math B students, and all of the students who either need to pass a past Regents exam (and have been in a Regents review class) or who want to improve their score. Yes, Virginia, there are students who voluntarily retest to improve the grade.

In my first two years here, counselors spent a large portion of time after the start of every exam phoning those students who didn’t show up. This year, my genius guidance director, Beth, and her fantastic secretary, Janene, sent home a letter to every student’s home telling the family which exams the kid needed to be here for AND they hand delivered a copy of the letter to every kid.

Extra effort in planning=great results on test day.

Because of their extra effort to take on the task of informing kids, without the “well, it’s the student’s responsibility to check the test schedule” garbage, we only had two students who weren’t here yesterday. Two. Awesome attendance on test day.

Which brings me to another point on this topic. One of my son’s teachers. A couple of weeks ago, Tallon missed two of her classes, one for the orthodontist and one for a bass guitar lesson. The teacher called me, as she does with any other parent (and I know this because of the numerous parents who have stopped me to say how much they appreciate her), and she simply said “let Tallon know he needs to stay after with me today to get ready for Friday’s test.” He stayed on Thursday and on Friday thought he did a great job on the test. No attitude from the teacher of “it’s not my problem he wasn’t here, it’s his responsibility”. No big deal for the teacher. Very much appreciated by parent and child. That’s how we show our community we care about their kids, by making that extra effort.

Simple solutions. I like it.

Disclaimer Discussion Continues

Chris Lehmann continued the discussion over at Practical Theory that started with my earlier post about the disclaimer added to the tagline of this blog. I appreciate Chris’ work as he writes about the Science Leadership Academy in Philadephia. He talks in this post about the questions some have about blogging, and concludes with this,

Any student who wants to come to SLA, any teacher who wants to teach here, could Google SLA, find this blog and learn a lot about our values, our process, and the thoughts (and ramblings) of the principal. With luck, that will be part of the process of enhancing our community and strengthening its values. If nothing else came of this blog, that’d be worth it.

Earlier, Christian Long posted at think:lab about this issue , including his tips for success with blogging. His suggestions are prudent and certainly ideas that I follow. However, I do think it’s okay to post first names of students and full names of other professionals when the post is positive in nature. Public recognition is a form of praise that we have much too little of in education.

Both posts listed above remind me again of a conversation I had with Will Richardson at the start of my blogging endeavor. We were talking about audience and I asked Will what will happen when I’m interviewing for a superintendent’s job someday and the interview team looks to my blog to see how I think about different issues. Will’s response, “they’ll hire you.”

I think of Will’s response often, and I keep on writing. Our schools need leaders who are willing to take a stand.

Cheating or Initiative?

Our teachers are giving mid term exams right now. One of my requests is that they completely align the mid terms with the Regents, taking Regents exam questions on content that’s been covered to date and giving a test that mirrors the Regents.

Having said that, if a student goes on-line and looks up all of the old Regents exams and answer keys, works the problems, studies the answers, and scores a 100 on the mid-term, what do you call that? Cheating or Resourceful?

I think this takes initiative, review, and serious study time. The teacher knows the exams and keys are out there, pieces together old questions to make the exam, everyone has the same opportunity to look up the questions and answers, is it cheating?

G-Town Talks Disclaimer

Check out the changes made in the tagline of this blog. This is a disclaimer added after our superintendent attended a presentation on January 12, 2007 by Elizabeth D. Carlson of the law firm, HodgsonRuss. The recommendations include developing a blogging policy where a district must “clearly communicate with its employees where it stands on the use of blogs.” She goes on to say, “If a district actively, or even passively, encourages blogging, a specific blogging policy is advisable to define the acceptable parameters of blogging. A blogging policy should require personal blog users to make certain disclosures and disclaimers. Employees should be required to state clearly that the views expressed are their own views, not the views of the district.”

This proves interesting for G-Town Talks. Certainly, the views expressed in these posts are mine, and are not necessarily the views of the “district”. I sort of thought that was obvious. But who then is the “district”? As a leader in the school, I’m writing as the high school principal about, well, the high school. As the principal hired by the district, my views should be in line with our community, the superintendent and the Board of Education. Otherwise, I’m likely to find myself using this blog to look for employment.

I am always aware of audience when I write and 98% of the time, I tie anything that I’m writing about in my personal life to school. I’ve  fearlessly written in this blog since July when I attended training, paid for by the district, at High School’s New Face. I’ve heard of colleagues who won’t even comment on a blog for fear of “tenure”. I’m not tenured yet either, but believe that if I write honestly, with integrity, conducting myself as a professional, that G-Town Talks could only extend my communication and influence. I’ve written honestly here and I’ve never “hidden behind” the blog, never written anonymously about anything, and never been inappropriate.

Is there something I’m missing? I would never misuse this blog to say anything that I wouldn’t otherwise say to my superintendent, to Board members, to parents or to kids. I just thought that was a given. Hopefully, this post and the disclaimer in my tagline will make it “CYA” clear. Or will it?